by David Tong

If you came from old-school film cameras, you’ll notice that the most common “standard” lens that came with the camera is a prime lens. There are good reasons for manufacturers to do that, mostly because of budgetary reasons, but also the benefit of having a standard piece of equipment that different users can utilize to their distinct output.

For example, a 50mm prime lens is considered a “standard” lens for a 35mm camera. 50mm approximates the field-of-view of the human eye, so when you look into the viewfinder, the image is roughly similar to what the scene would’ve looked like with your naked eye - no distortion, no compression, so to speak.

An 85mm f/1.2 Prime Lens

This makes photography quite “documentary” for casual users, the 50mm makes users feel confident that what they shot is what they saw in real life.

But there are more technical benefits of a 50mm prime that many users don’t realize, more hidden reasons that many didn’t appreciate until lesser quality lenses came around, especially zoom lenses. I’m here to discuss the merits of prime lenses and why any photographer should at least have one (or more) prime lens in their arsenal.

This article is not a knock against zoom lenses, I’m merely citing the benefits of a prime that many fail to appreciate mainly because of lack of patience to utilize the strengths of prime lenses.

Today’s digital SLR packages usually come with a zoom lens that covers wide angle to normal tele range (28-80mm equivalent in 35mm format). While that is a very versatile focal range for most people, kit lenses lack the light-gathering capability of more expensive, constant aperture zoom lenses and kit lenses often suffer from selective focus control due to their small aperture openings as well.

As always, if budget is not a concern, then there are multitudes of high-end zoom lenses that can address your need for speed, but for new photographers who are budget conscious, most manufacturers have 50mm prime lenses that provide great optics, speed, portability, and most of all, price.

A 50mm lens on most modern day crop-sensor DSLRs will equate to roughly 80-85mm in focal length, while it seems narrow for many users who grew up with zooms, it does offer quite a lot of versatility and creative opportunities to those who wish to challenge themselves. If you’re using a full-frame film or digital SLR, then you’ll probably have more opportunities to challenge yourself due to a larger sensor/film surface to work with.

Here are some reasons why I love the 50mm prime (or primes, in general).

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